A new two-story single-family residence constructed with architecturally exposed
concrete shear walls and slabs, steel framing and steel and glass window walls. Located
above the coast, the residence rests on a site sloping downward to the south and
east with steps in the grade elevation. Deep pile foundations anchor the 7,300 sf
structure and site retaining walls to the hillside. A stepped retaining wall on
the hill above the house is integrated with the residence and a long driveway curves
down from the street above.
When the opportunity came to design a home perched high above the Malibu coastline,
all architect Peter Tolkin could think of was the phrase in a 1976 Ed Ruscha painting:
“Malibu = Sliding Glass Doors.”
“I liked the idea he reduced Malibu to looking out to the ocean,” Tolkin confessed.
But the architect realized that the interests of his clients -- ambitious art collectors
looking to celebrate more than just the view -- could hardly be ignored. “I needed
to concentrate on what was behind those sliding windows and doors,” Tolkin said.
So he created what he now calls the Sunglass House, a moniker that captures the idea
of seeing out to the ocean but through the lens of a lush interior. The house, one
of three coastal designs to be showcased Sunday in the fall home tour of the American
Institute of Architects Los Angeles, challenges the mantra of maximizing ocean views.
It tempts the eye to stay inside the house.
Tolkin's 7,000-square-foot design for Jeffrey and Marla Michaels places large cubes
atop one another, nestled into the hillside. A 57-foot-long bank of sliding glass
doors does make sure the ocean gets its due.
But the dimensions of the rooms, including a ceiling that rises to 22 feet in the
entrance hall, suggest a grandeur that's reinforced by sophisticated interiors by
Marla Michaels' sister, the designer Deborah Goldstein.
Tolkin uses the circulating spaces to exaggerate the sense of spaciousness. On the
ground floor, a tall hall separates the living area and kitchen at the front from
the dining and media rooms behind. Another spacious hallway on the second floor has
the same effect.
As for interior details, he started by giving the concrete two finishes. Walls that
parallel the hill, going east-west, have a rough texture. Walls going north-south
are smooth, with a pattern of holes and lines that Tolkin argues produces a more
human scale. Marble and dark walnut floors are meant to offset the concrete.
Formality would have been inimical to the Michaels, longtime Californians used to
easy living, so the architect brightened the windowless dining room by installing
a glowing wine cabinet -- more than 20 feet long and 10 feet high -- along its rear
Tolkin also placed the kitchen on the ocean-facing side of the house, parallel to
the sliding glass doors, with a 24-foot-long counter top made of Rosso Levanto marble.
“This is where we end up sitting most of the time,” Marla Michaels said.
While Tolkin and his project manager and senior associate Jeremy Schacht worked on
the structural features, Michaels and Goldstein worked to make sure all this “materiality”
didn't make the house feel cold.
“I wanted it to feel like a home,” Michaels said.
So with Tolkin sometimes in tow, the sisters scoured the Southland for furnishings
for three years, construction/permitting delays working to their favor. The result
is a collection that ranges from a curving 1941 Paul Frankl sofa in the living room
to the zany Jacaranda bench, circa 1960, by Brazilian designer Jorge Zalszupin that
sits off the kitchen.
Upstairs, figurines by the Israeli ceramist Galia Linn dominate the master bedroom
and line the balcony outside the master bath.
The biggest motivation to keep the house's focus directed inward: the Michaels' art
collection. It highlights such L.A. artists as Mary Corse, a veteran of the Southern
California Light and Space movement, and the younger Yunhee Min.
So yes, this house does come with archetypal Malibu views, but thanks to Tolkin and
Goldstein, much of the excitement remains inside those sliding glass doors.